Researchers, scientists, physicians and stakeholders gathered in Paris February 2 and 3 for the International Conference on Harm Reduction in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).
Harm reduction focuses on how to diminish the impact on health of behaviors such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or the lack of physical activity. Non-communicable diseases (NCD) include most cancers, cardiovascular illnesses and diabetes. NCDs result from a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioral factors.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs which affects every country claims 41 million people each year worldwide, and causes 71% of all deaths globally. Cardiovascular diseases account for 17.9 million deaths, according to WHO, cancers 9 million), respiratory diseases 3.9million and diabetes 1.6 million. Tobacco alone causes 7.2 million deaths every year – but from smoking and from exposure to second-hand smoke and this number is projected to rise markedly.
Conference participants advised that cancers can be prevented by trying out the controversial alternative ‘heat-not-burn’ tobacco promoted by Philip Morris International. The company has announced plans to move towards ending manufacture and commercialization of cigarettes, replacing them with smoke-free products. Experts agreed on the urgency to promote the lifestyle changes which many argue is the most effective way to minimize the health burdens of many chronic diseases. Appropriate diet and prevention of NCDs are closely related.
For instance, in Japan, long life expectancy, on average 87 for women and 81 for men, is largely attributed to healthy diet. The country also registers the lowest obesity rate, which stands at 4.3%.
According to WHO, 80% of premature deaths caused by NCDs occur in low and middle income countries with Africa being one of the most affected continents with several types of cancers, including lung, cervical and stomach, which are spreading fast.
Dr. Judith Didi Kouko Coulibaly, an oncologist and Director of the National Oncology and Radiotherapy Center in Abidjan said lack of easy access to radiotherapy, poor prevention policies and late diagnoses are some of the main causes for proliferation of the diseases. She stressed that without political will, the present situation will not change as government has a critical role to play.